Monday, 30 August 2010

Cursed by David Wellington

Cursed is the tale of Cheyenne Clark, a twenty-something we meet while she is struggling through the Northwest Territories of the Canadian Arctic. “Most people’s lives change very slowly, more slowly than the seasons. Some people are born into the life they’re going to lead and nothing much ever comes along to force them to change. For Cheyenne Clark, change came about in the space of thirty very bad seconds.” She is hunting for something, but it seems like something is hunting her too...

It is desperately hard to synopsise this novel without giving too much away about the plot (which is why I have kept it as sparse as possible) – and I feel as though part of the strength of Cursed comes from watching the mystery about Chey unfold. To start with, she is merely a girl in danger of her life, and I enjoyed being given little hints and tips about her back story and what she is really doing in the Canadian Arctic.

In recent times many books involving werewolves have made these creatures into soft, cuddly affairs – taking away the animal quality from them. David Wellington more than makes up for this in Cursed. In fact, his werewolves are another strong element of the novel. We are able to see the world from the perspective of the wolf – almost a separate entity from the person – and it is a fearsomely hard world to live in. In fact, the sequences with the wolf reminded me of nothing so much as books like White Fang by Jack London – it is extremely clear that Wellington has worked hard on representing a realistic picture of what it would be to turn into a wolf night after night.

Wellington presents the bleak world of the far north with great depth and passion – the details about the landscape and the moonrise/moonset are inserted perfectly, so that it never feels as though we are being handed a lesson in the natural world.

The characterisation is Spartan, but effective. Chey is a character you want to sympathise with – you know she has her secrets, but her reactions to learning about the wolf are honest and genuine. Powell is a darkly enigmatic man, who takes a very pragmatic approach to life in the frozen north. By far my favourite character though was Dzo – he is mysterious, and I’m hoping he returns in all his odd glory in the second book by Wellington.
In fact, I only had a couple of minor problems with the novel. The main one was the fact that Wellington left the details of his world fairly blank: it was clear that I was dealing with a version of Earth, but in this version lycanthropes, shapeshifters and werewolves (interchangeable terms?) were known as being real. Apart from that, Wellington gave us nothing. In other novels I’m used to be handed far too many details about a world (which creates a whole other problem of boredom), and I think a balance needs to be struck between that approach and that of Wellington. I could have done with a little more background.

That aside, Cursed was a compulsive read – chilling, dark and fatalistic for much of its pages, but containing an element of hope to take onward to the second book in the series. Chey and Powell were characters that I want to journey with, and I found this ultra-realistic take on the werewolf myth a very effective addition to the canon of lycanthropy. Highly recommended.

Cursed is being published 2nd September by Piatkus Books.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with David Wellington, the author of Cursed!

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